When Hanna Zuraff moved to Missoula to attend the University of Montana, she came looking for new friends and an opportunity to stay engaged in a program close to her heart.
She has accomplished her mission on both fronts.
“I started working with the Boys and Girls Club when I was 15, in Nevada actually,” Zuraff said during a recent afternoon. “When I moved here to go to the university, I wanted to get involved because I knew I was helping kids that really needed a role model, and I was helping kids on a larger scale than I ever could babysitting.”
Zuraff, now an energetic board member with the Boys and Girls Club of Missoula County, marveled at the success of the club’s inaugural “Fine Arts for the Future” event held recently in downtown Missoula.
The event, which included the work of local kids, a fisherman who paints with the lash of his fly rod and a three-piece band strumming well-known cover songs, attracted a respectable throng of participants, never mind the heat.
Zuraff looks to build the art show into an annual event with proceeds going to benefit the organization’s plans for the future. And when you’re young and ambitious, there are plenty of plans to be made.
“We’ve noticed that a lot of art programs, along with other things like music, have been cut from school programs,” said Zuraff. “We don’t want that to go against our kids. We want to be able to provide those programs for them.”
The Boys and Girls Club of Missoula County, which serves the Missoula and Bitterroot valleys – as well as underserved neighborhoods – also looks to apply the proceeds toward the opening of a new club, something Zuraff hopes to achieve within the next five years.
The current facility at the City Life Center is crowded, Zuraff said, and the additional space would enable the organization to expand the opportunities it provides for children.
“We have a lot of kids who go there, and we could get more to Missoula if we had our own facility,” said Zuraff. “We’re trying to make that happen. If we had our own facility and better vehicles, we’d be able to make a bigger difference in the community.”
Since 1997, the Boys and Girls Club of Missoula County has kept area youth busy outside the classroom. While that’s handy for working parents, Zuraff believes it also keeps local youth around positive role models and provides opportunities that some may not otherwise have.
From afternoons at Splash Montana to dodge-ball outings with the Kappa Epsilon fraternity at UM, the organization provides both after-school programs and a popular summer camp. For parents, it offers peace of mind. For the kids, it offers a new perspective.
“Nowadays, kids are very addicted to TV and cellphones, but we really push getting outside, going hiking, swimming or helping out in the community,” said Zuraff. “Last year, our kids raised money for the victims of the Roaring Lion fire. It’s really cool when you see them coming up with those ideas.”
Zuraff, who’s pursuing a psychology degree at UM, hopes to apply her education to forward the mission of the organization. The Boys and Girls Club, whether located in Nevada or Missoula, often includes a population of kids struggling with behavioral issues.
It’s there where Zuraff hopes to have her biggest impact.
“I want to be able to treat them in a non-professional way,” she said. “It’s not that there’s something wrong with them. They just need a different type of care. It’s important for our staff to realize that. As a board member, that’s kind of my push.